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Sydney Opera House

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Sydney Opera House
Since opening in 1973, the Sydney Opera House has welcomed more than 100 million people and hosted 100,000 performances. The Opera House was built to include almost 100 rooms, five auditoriums, a reception hall, 60 dressing rooms, five rehearsal studios, six theater bars, and many other rooms and offices.

Recognized all around the world, the Sydney Opera House is famous for its distinctive-looking interlocking concrete shells. The design of the gothic, cathedral-style structure was orchestrated by Jorn Utzon, until he resigned. The project was then completed by Hall, Todd & Littlemore.

The project cost AUS$ 102 million and 16 years to construct. There were many obstacles to overcome, such as political, creative, and cost conflicts.[1]


[edit] Construction History

[edit] Competition

The New South Wales premier, Joe Cahille, announced a design competition in 1956 for the design of an opera house in Sydney. The attention of the competition drew interest from more than 200 architects and firms. One of these was from an anonymous application submitted by Jorn Utzon, an unknown architect from Denmark. His design consisted of a series of white concrete vaulted shells, an inspiration he said derived from the idea of “peeling an orange.”[2]

One of the judges, Eero Saarinen, was said to be shifting through some of the rejected entries and came across Utzon’s design, which he thought to be incredible. Nothing such as Utzon’s design had ever been created or attempted but the possibility of an opera house consisting of concrete shells overlooking Sydney Harbour had a unique touch and reflected the city’s relationship to the sea.[3]

[edit] Early Stages

Despite the fact that Jorn Utzon had not completed the designs for the Opera House in full, the government insisted that construction commence immediately, and it did so in March 1959. The early stages of construction were complicated by the changing government regulations. One of the changes meant that the designs would have to be altered to fit a fourth theater.

Contractors Civil 7 Civic oversaw the construction for Phase One. This phase involved laying the foundations and building a podium 82 feet (25 m) above sea level. More than 39,239 cubic feet (30,000 m3) of rock and soil were removed by excavators. The foundation was built atop a large rock that sat in Sydney Harbour. The second stage saw the building of the shells, the podium structure, the stage tower, and the necessary machinery. Cable beams were built and reinforced by steel cables to release the stress of the weight. The strength of the cables was tested by loading additional weights. When the builders were satisfied that the cables would support, the beams were made extendable by other beams.[4]

Close-up of the pointed Syndey Opera House
The shells for the roof structure were made in Denmark and brought to England for tests. There were several problems constructing the shells. With just a single skin, the strength would not suffice for the project. A second skin also failed. Utzon worked with Ove Arup between 1957 and 1963 to produce shells that would be safe to use. They sought a solution in constructing the shells with precast concrete. In total, 2,194 sections of pre-cast concrete were created for a roof weighing 27,230 tons. The self-supporting rib-shaped shells were tied together by steel cables and each half was joined at the ridge.

The pillars, made of concrete, also needed to be thickened to endure the support. Builders accomplished this with the use of drills. Holes were drilled to and explosives were used to blast them.

Paramount to the erecting and positioning of the roof structure were three massive tower cranes. The cranes were so large they had to be shipped from France. Each crane had parts that filled up 30 trucks worth of materials. Two of the modified Babcock Weitz G280 cranes were positioned in the north of the project and one was in the south. The cranes were made accessible to the site by mounting them on rail-like tracks. Smaller cranes, called stiff-legged derricks, were also used. The derricks were responsible for lifting materials onto a waiting platform in close proximity to the tower cranes while they were waiting to be lifted to great heights.

When the ribs were built and ready to be erected, a lorry transported them to a stiff-legged derrick, which lifted them to the foot of the tower crane. The tower crane, which was fitted with slinging cradles, could tilt in any direction. The ribs were tilted until they were fitted in the desired place and were then lowered into position, between a preceding rib and a steel arch that assisted in the erecting process. Stress cables were utilized to ensure the ribs were well supported.

The steel arch was devised and built by the Hornibrooke Group, the group responsible for building in stages two and three. It was designed in the shape of each of the constructed ribs. Four arches were made, then lifted to the podium by hydraulic rams. The tiles of the ribs were made of intricate patterns called Chevron. The Chevron tiles were constructed by placing aluminum grids over each tile and enforcing steel plates around them. They were fitted with waterproof grooves. The tiles caused some delays when builders discovered that some of them didn’t fit properly.

The glass walls of the Opera House were constructed by Boussois Souchon Neuvesel. The glass needed to fulfill several requirements: it needed to be easy to cut so shapes could be created. It also needed to remain fully intact in situations when breakages occurred, so as to reduce the risk of falling glass hazards. It also needed to be waterproof when it was broken. When it was successfully built, mobile cranes were used to transport it. Special cranes were built by Quick-Steel to move on scaffold platforms. The mobile cranes consisted of six vacuum pads and a boom capable of lifting the glass sheets onto the waiting frame for glazing.

On site, the glass frames were drilled with holes to fit onto the glazing bars. They could not be pre-drilled for fear that the holes would not be positioned in the accurate place. Special drills were constructed by Hawker de Havilland. A jack and drill rig was connected to the glazing bar and drilled precise holes while the mobile cranes adjusted the glass frames. Once the frame was positioned, the holes were drilled and the glass met its final position.[5]

[edit] Building Conflicts

The Sydney Opera House out in the water
In 1965, Utzon was bullied by a newly elected government about exorbitant costs of the structure. Refusing to subsidize the costs of the Opera House, Utzon was forced to back down and left Australia permanently. Utzon resigned during the construction of the second phase. Although the basic structure was completed, he never had the opportunity to lay his personal touches on the interior design.[6]

Utzon was not available for the final stage. In 1966, the architectural firm of Hall, Todd & Littlemore took over the project. The final stages included the cladding of the podium, the glass walls and the waterproofing. Finally, after 16 years of construction, Utzon’s vision was realized, even if he wasn’t there to see it for himself.[7]

[edit] Grand Opening

The doors of the Sydney Opera House were opened on October 20, 1973 by Queen Elizabeth II. During the opening ceremony, Utzon was awarded a Gold Medal of the Royal Institute of Architects Australia. He did not attend the ceremony.[8]

[edit] Equipment Used

[edit] Refurbishment/Recent Projects/Renovations

In 1999, the government and Sydney Opera House Trust came to an agreement with Jorn Utzon to get involved with design principles and to have some influence over future changes within the building.

Utzon agreed. He said of the project: “I like to think the Sydney Opera House is like a musical instrument, and like any fine instrument, it needs a little maintenance and fine tuning, from time to time, if it is to keep performing at the highest level.”[9]

Several refurbishments were announced in 2001 under the New South Wales Government. $69.3 million was provided for improving facilities. Of this, Utzon’s architect son, Jan, will be working with Australian architect, Richard Johnson (Johnson Pilton Walker) to work on the interior design.[10]

The first change to the outer structure was the building of the Colonnade, which opened in 2006.

Utzon is also working on the Accessibility and Western Foyers Project, a task that will make it more accessible to visitors.[11]

[edit] Unique Facts

  • The Sydney Opera House received recognition for World Heritage in 2007.
  • In 2003, the year the Opera House reached its 30th birthday, Utzon was awarded with the Pritzker Prize for Architecture.
  • The first section of the Opera House, designed by Utzon, was renamed the Utzon Room in his honor. Since opening in 2004, it is the only interior aspect to contain Utzon’s designs.[12]
  • The Sydney Opera House weighs 161,000 tons.
  • 67,005 square feet (6,225 m2) of glass were used for the Opera House.
  • The Opera House's largest hall, the Concert Hall, is capable of seating 2,679.[13]

[edit] References

  1. Sydney Opera House, 2006. (accessed 2008-09-23)
  2. AstroTheme Biography of Jorn Utzon, 2008-09-23.
  3. SydneyOperaHouse Building Program, 2008-09-23.
  4. Sydney Opera House, 2006. (accessed 2008-09-23)
  5. Smith, Michael Pomeroy. Sydney Opera House. Collins: Sydney, 1984.
  6. SydneyOperaHouse Building Program, 2008-09-23.
  7. Sowden, Harry. Sydney Opera House Glass Walls. Cassell: London, 1972.
  8. SydneyOperaHouse Building Program, 2008-09-23.
  9. SydneyOperaHouse Building Program, 2008-09-23.
  10. The Sydney Opera House, 2008-09-23.
  11. SydneyOperaHouse Building Program, 2008-09-23.
  12. Sydney Opera House, 2006. (accessed 2008-09-23)
  13. Sydney Opera House, 2008-09-23.